Editor, Daily Nexus,
Benjamin Corp’s characterization of American policy from the Cold War to the present (“Politics Must Adapt,” Daily Nexus, May 1) as idealistic and theoretical misrepresents history. It also confuses his larger argument that only realpolitik should inform foreign policy. While ideological language composed many Cold War dictums, the actual policies can be seen as maneuvers to consolidate power and influence at the expense of the next leading world power – the underlying ethic being that America’s leadership was more justifiable than the Soviet Union’s.
Early Cold War behavior can hardly be described as idealistic. The Marshall Plan was conceived to preserve western European markets while hedging the zone against Soviet culture and political influence. It continued the sphere of influence policies begun by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, who sacrificed Poland and the Baltic states to Russia during the Tehran and Yalta conferences. NSC-68, in 1950, appealed to American fears, rather than ideals, by depicting the USSR as a state that sought world domination. Even Corp’s example of Vietnam is indefensible as an idealistic war. The Vietnam conflict was inherited from French colonialists and was fought with the assumption that the establishment of a communist government in Vietnam would bolster communist movements throughout the region. Self-interest, played out through financial and geopolitical considerations, dominated the American approach to Southeast Asia. In another example, one would be hard-pressed to find idealistic motivations when, in 1979, America supported the Khmer Rouge bid to represent Cambodia in the United Nations.
American behavior from the Cold War to the present is most explainable when a single “theory” is considered: that America’s predominance in the world is a good thing. Corp, however, asks for a rejection of theory in favor of something called realpolitik, through which he suggests that “political discourse” will transform into “pragmatic action.” But without theory, what determines those actions? Under what criteria can a theoretically bankrupt government judge successful resolutions? Surely, America might have avoided the Cold War by steering clear of European affairs, by insulating itself from foreign entanglement, but this would have come at the expense of American living standards and the GDP, and therefore would have conflicted with the Rooseveltian promise of freedom from want. The goals of any nation’s foreign policy platform stem from the theories that justify its government. Without them, governments lose distinguishing characteristics and have little motivation to engage each other on issues besides resource competition. Considering the current state of globalization, it is Corp’s concept of realpolitik, rather than theory, that seems defunct.